The greatest, or at least most common, gift we are likely to give this Christmas, is our absence. Chalk up one more way that COVID has changed our world. What do I mean? Christmas just won’t be the same this year. No office parties. No going to the nursing home and singing “Hark the Herald Angels” horrendously out of tune. No visit with our second cousin Larry and having an “opportunity” to try his infamous fruitcake. No gathering with grandma and grandpa around the tree and opening gifts. No reading the Christmas story to our nephews and nieces right before Christmas dinner. And the list of “No’s” goes on. If we are honest, we won’t miss some of these things in the slightest. Office parties probably being one. But for the most part, each absence will be a dull ache in the heart. So, how can I say our absence will be a “gift”?
Having spent many nights outdoors with the military, and later on, my own recognizance as a backpacker, I learned a valuable lesson. I never really appreciated being warm in the winter until I experienced extreme cold. I never appreciated my cozy, comfy bed until I slept on the hard, frozen ground. I never really appreciated a shower until I went a month without one. In short, until I experienced the absence of a thing, I didn’t fully appreciate it. And that is the unintended “gift” many of us will be giving to our loved ones this Christmas. They will never again take our presence for granted. And neither will we, theirs. Next year we all will hug each other a little tighter, relish those moments around the table a little more, and thank God for our loved ones with a little more fervor. Because we were given the “gift of absence” this year, next will be all the sweeter.
Now let’s apply this same idea to Christmas itself. That moment of time when “God came near.” What if he didn’t? What would the absence of Christmas be like? Sure, no eggnog, string lights, and cheesy Hallmark specials, and so on. I think we would have survived not having any of that. But if no baby born in the manger to a young Mary, there would be no Jesus. If no Jesus, no teaching on how to love our neighbors. If no Jesus, no one to command us to turn our cheek when wronged. If no Jesus, no one to tell us to drop our stones when we are about to cast them. If no Jesus, no one to command us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and visit the prisoner. Sure, you don’t have to believe in God/Jesus and do these things, but have you ever heard about a soup kitchen or homeless shelter run by a local atheist club? In short, as bad as our world might seem now, without Jesus, it would be infinitely worse.
And it doesn’t stop there. If no Jesus, no cross. If no cross, no resurrection. If no resurrection, well, as St. Paul plainly puts it, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). In short, no Jesus, no hope.
So, this season, thanks to COVID, things will be a bit slower-paced. Let me encourage you to take this time and pause. Consider the absence of Christmas. And what our lives would be without it. And in doing so, maybe we will appreciate it in a way we never have.
And that might be the best gift yet….